Building Images and Business

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Building Images and Business

Susan Fortner has been an NASE member since 2011 and has won both a growth grant and a scholarship grant from NASE. She is president of Bowers PR & Marketing.

Tell us about your business. How did you get started?
I own a public relations and marketing firm in central Ohio. I am also a partner in a woman-owned marketing collaborative effort. I started my business in 2007. Because of my extensive background in public relations and marketing I was asked by a friend to help her with her business because the agency she hired was not getting any press. With the success of my campaign, I felt it was time to stop working for others and open my own doors, and I haven’t looked back.

What’s your favorite thing about your business?
My favorite part is twofold—first, it is the great clients that I have been able to help grow their business and achieve their goals. When they are successful, they are able to grow and hire additional employees, which creates a stronger community. Second, I love the group that I have hired, watching them service our clients in a professional way and see how they have grown with their jobs. That has been a personal satisfaction.

Which NASE member benefits have you used and how have they helped your business?
I have looked into the insurance offered and was pleased to learn about their life insurance policy. I also checked into their buying power when I recently purchased a new car. I have introduced the real estate sales benefit to my client and am planning to find out how to get him active in NASE. Finally and most importantly I was able to take advantage of two grants—one a growth grant and the second a scholarship grant. The growth grant allowed me to secure office equipment and staff to double my business in less than one year. The scholarship enabled me to complete my accreditation in PRSA.

How do you market your business?
I have created a team that allows me to be my own marketing department. I spend most of my time in the field gaining clients. I feel no one can sell your services or products like the owner can. I have account people now, thanks in part to my NASE grant, who handle the day-to-day activities and allow me to focus on new business and management. We also have an internal PR process, some online marketing, and starting this fall will launch an advertising campaign.

What challenges have you faced in your business? How have you overcome them?
Growth and staffing is always a challenge. Also billing and getting clients to pay on time so that cash flow does not become an issue. First, with growth and staff the biggest challenge is making sure that your clients still get the same quality of service that they had received from the owner. It is a trial and error process finding the right people with the right set of work ethics to work on accounts. It is also a matter of easing new employees in so that I can oversee the quality of their work. Next, while you can never get completely out of the problem of collections if you bill your clients, you can minimize the problems. We put our clients on contract and require them to pay ahead, getting bills out in a timely way and letting them know when they get behind and work with them on catching up.

What’s the best thing about being self-employed?
The best thing about being self-employed is that no one can fire me; I control my company’s destiny. If I don’t get out there and continue to build the business and grow it, the buck stops with me. It is sometimes scary knowing that I am also responsible for others but I have no doubt that if I work hard we will continue on our growth path.

What’s the most common misperception clients and potential clients have about public relations?
They are under the impression that we can just put out a press release and all of media will cover it. We have to manage expectations all the time. We do this by carefully laying out for the client, up front, how a PR campaign works as well as how a campaign needs to run to be successful. And if we feel a potential client’s expectations cannot be managed then maybe they are not ready for PR. The bottom line is PR is a process that takes time to build and succeed.

What’s the best business advice you can offer your fellow NASE Members?
Take advantage of all that NASE has to offer and encourage your sideline businesses to consider membership as well. Also, remember that success takes time and lots of hard work. I have worked with many startup businesses and some want to grow their business to sell it—if you love what you are doing you do not want to sell it for a long time and if you love it you will work hard and be successful.

What do you do to relax and get away from the office?
Well that happens very little but when it does I travel with my family, play tennis and sometimes I take an afternoon off and spend it with my kids.

Do you give back to your local community?
Giving back to the community is extremely important to my business model, is great PR and is also personally important to me. I sit on the board of Pleasure Guild of Nationwide Children’s Hospital, volunteer at my children’s schools and am involved with the Junior League of Columbus. I also volunteer my time to help coach startup businesses.

Your business could be featured in the SelfInformed Member Spotlight or another NASE publication. Let us know you’d like to be featured and tell us more about your business on our Publicity Form.

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